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Clinton's Ditch: The Erie Canal in Western New York

Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for School Teachers

Postmark Deadline: March 4, 2013

Two one-week workshops on the construction of the Erie Canal and its economic, social, and cultural impact.

This workshop guides teachers through an in-depth exploration of the construction of the Erie Canal and the "larger themes of how advancements in transportation, communication, and engineering change not only the economy but the political climate, social interactions, and the culture of a people." The development of a commercial waterway in upstate New York that eventually spanned 363 miles began in controversy concerning funding, engineering, and labor challenges, but this did not deter Governor DeWitt Clinton, who realized the enormous economic advantage of constructing what was derided as "Clinton's Ditch." This background is covered by author Gerard Koeppel and historian Tamara Plankins Thornton (University of Buffalo), supported by readings from David Walker Howe's What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 and Koeppel's Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire. An Erie Canal trip originating in Lockport, NY, allows participants to experience first-hand the engineering challenges posed by elevation changes between Buffalo and Albany, and the technical innovations they inspired. Director Pierson Bell, a veteran teacher in the Niagara County School District, next teams up with Roger Hecht (literature, State University of New York, Oneonta) to examine the cultural impact of the canal through landscape painting, prints and drawings, and selections of writings by Twain, Hawthorne, and Harriet Beecher Stowe drawn from Hecht's The Erie Canal Reader, 1790-1950. Wednesday is devoted to group tours of the Erie Canal Museum, housed in the old "weighlock" building that provided a system for determining toll charges, and trips to Camillus Erie Canal Park and the Mile Creek Aqueduct. On Thursday, historian F. Daniel Larkin (SUNY Oneonta) addresses the rapid growth the canal brought to cities like Buffalo, expanding upon Ronald Shaw's Erie Water West: a History of the Erie Canal, 1792-1854. Professor Larkin stays the following day to share insights about various primary sources-maps, drawings, blueprints, and photographs-as teachers, working in small groups, develop their document projects and virtual archives. On Saturday, the teachers report on their projects and then gather for a late afternoon trip to Niagara Falls State Park.

Dates: July 21-28 or August 4-11
Director(s): Pierson Bell
Grantee Institutions: Niagara County Community College
Location: Sanborn, NY

About NEH Landmarks of American History: Workshops for School Teachers

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent grant-making agency of the federal government. As part of the NEH’s We the People program, we offer the following Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for School Teachers. NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops provide the opportunity for K-12 educators to engage in intensive study and discussion of important topics in American history and culture. These one-week programs will give participants direct experiences in the interpretation of significant historical and cultural sites and the use of archival and other primary evidence. Landmarks Workshops present the best scholarship on a specific landmark or related cluster of landmarks, enabling participants to gain a sense of the importance of historical places, to make connections between what they learn in the Workshop and what they teach, and to develop enhanced teaching or research materials.

Amount of Award

Teachers selected to participate will receive a stipend of $1,200 at the end of the residential Workshop session. Stipends are intended to help cover living expenses, books, and travel expenses to and from the Workshop location.


These projects are designed principally for classroom teachers and librarians in public, charter, independent, and religiously-affiliated schools, as well as home schooling parents. Other K-12 school personnel, including administrators, substitute teachers, and classroom professionals, are eligible to participate, subject to available space.

Teachers at schools in the United States or its territorial possessions or Americans teaching in foreign schools where at least 50 percent of the students are American nationals are eligible for this program. Applicants must be United States citizens, residents of U.S. jurisdictions, or foreign nationals who have been residing in the United States or its territories for at least the three years immediately preceding the application deadline. Foreign nationals teaching abroad at non-U.S. chartered institutions are not eligible to apply.

Applicants must complete the NEH application and provide all of the information requested to be considered eligible.

New this year: An individual may apply to up to two NEH Summer Programs in any one year (Landmarks Workshops, Summer Seminars, or Summer Institutes), but may participate in only one. Please note that eligibility criteria differ significantly between the Landmarks Workshops and the Seminars and Institutes Programs.

How to Apply

Please e-mail, telephone or send by U.S. Post a request for application information and expanded Workshop descriptions to the Landmarks directors listed here; in many cases, these materials will also be available on project Web sites. You may request information about as many Workshops as you like, and, as noted above, you may apply to up to two programs but participate in only one.